Think back to how business was done a few decades ago. There was no email, Internet, mobile marketing, telecommuting or smartphones. Now communications are instantaneous, huge amounts of information move through email and the Internet and powerful tools are in the hands of owners and employees. Innovations in technology have improved operations at companies of all sizes and helped turn small local businesses into global businesses.
Cell phones have become small business necessities for owners and employees. These devices are lifelines for staying in touch when on the road and responding to customer inquiries in a timely manner. Smartphones raise the bar with access to the Internet, email and business applications in a small hand held device. Email, text messaging and social networking are other advances in communication that keep small businesses connected to their customer bases and improve internal communication within the company.
Technology has freed small businesses from the restrictions of prints ads when it comes to reaching new and existing customers. Internet marketing ranges from a simple informational website, to advertising on search engines, to online product sales. Email marketing is an effective and low cost method to reach a large group of people with a newsletter, coupons or business updates. Mobile marketing is a relatively new frontier that reaches people through text messaging, advertising on mobile applications and offering branded applications that tie customers into what is happening with the business in a fun and entertaining way.
Small businesses need to wring every ounce of productivity out of their operations and technology tools help employees get tasks done more quickly. This may range from printing out marketing materials to providing customer service through email or online chat. The key is to keep employees focused when using technology and to use it appropriately with the goal of saving time. Sometimes, a phone call may be more efficient and productive than an email. Provide employees with the right hardware and updated software to keep them working at peak proficiency.
Technology brings businesses closer to customers. Businesses use email to answer questions, offer online chat to help customers that are visiting the business website, and equip call centers with the latest phone equipment that makes customer service agents more efficient. Give customers a choice of ways to contact the company. Technology is powerful, but keep the people element in mind and don’t skimp on training employees in effective customer service techniques and the proper use of the technology.
Many small businesses now offer telecommuting and flex time as benefits. Colleagues can stay in touch from different locations, and when working different hours, by using email, online collaboration tools and mobile computing devices. When in the office, workers can share digital documents, convey information through presentations and create training videos to bring new employees up to speed.
Teleconferencing over the phone is one of the simplest conferencing methods, but advancement in recent years have brought web conferencing to the fore. Web conferencing can bring together web cams, audio and collaborative online meeting spaces to create an extremely interactive environment. Participants can see each other, work together on documents and recreate the in-person meeting experience no matter where they are in the world. This is one way that small businesses can extend their reach to include global customers and workers.
To improve your organisation’s responsiveness to new developments
Although this point might seem most relevant to complex, goods-oriented businesses that operate in highly dynamic industries, this point is as applicable to small service-oriented organisations. With regard to organisational responsiveness, ICT/technology can be a major aid in:
- processing data generated from a diverse range of channels (e.g. sales, web analytics, inventory control, customer feedback, industry data, etc.), which, if handled correctly, can flag developing issues and be the impetus for important strategic decisions; and
- facilitating the implementation of the decisions that have been made, through innovative and (hopefully) cost-effective options, some of which it might be possible to build in-house.
To change the basis of competition in your industry
Frequently in industry, a degree of complacency can occur when individual businesses no longer strive to distinguish themselves from their competitors. A certain equilibrium has been obtained and the businesses might be doing “okay”. However, for organisations that aim to grow market share; improve visibility; or wish to become the preferred vendor or service provider, ICT/technology can help them achieve those goals. Again, ICT/technology can be instrumental in:
- streamlining, optimising and automating certain internal processes , which can reduce delays, human error, red tape, and the complexity of certain processes
- introducing operational efficiencies that can reduce costs and improve the bottom line
- implementing new measures that can ultimately add value to the customer and improve his or her experience with the organisation.
4. To improve your organization’s overall performance
Finally, and as a culmination of all earlier points, ICT can introduce a paradigm shift in your organisations by helping you re-evaluate, among other things, what might be possible, how they can raise the bar and perform better, and what new services and quality standards should be introduced. This point may be particularly applicable to micro, small and medium sized businesses, many of which have limited resources, and might be looking for ways to take their operations to the next level.
One way of beginning the process of getting more out of the technology your organisation currently possesses, is not to focus on the devices themselves. Instead, the priority in the first instance should be to set the goals or desired outputs that you wish to realise, and to examine and understand current processes or project cycles in order to be in a position to determine how best they can be optimised with technology to achieve the desire outcomes.
In closing, ICT has long been touted as being able to introduce efficiencies into businesses, but too often the organisations themselves do not actively introduce such measures. Depending on the expertise resident in the firm, some external assistance may be necessary to get the most of the current equipment. However, as the corporate world becomes even more fixated on profits and savings, and competition increases across various sectors, a more considered investment to harness readily available ICT might be worth the inconvenience in the long term.
Top 10 Global Trends in ICT and Education
- Mobile Learning. New advances in hardware and software are making mobile “smart phones” indispensable tools. Just as cell phones have leapfrogged fixed line technology in the telecommunications industry, it is likely that mobile devices with internet access and computing capabilities will soon overtake personal computers as the information appliance of choice in the classroom.
- Cloud computing. Applications are increasingly moving off of the stand-alone desk top computer and increasingly onto server farms accessible through the Internet. The implications of this trend for education systems are huge; they will make cheaper information appliances available which do not require the processing power or size of the PC. The challenge will be providing the ubiquitous connectivity to access information sitting in the “cloud”.
- One-to-One computing. The trend in classrooms around the world is to provide an information appliance to every learner and create learning environments that assume universal access to the technology. Whether the hardware involved is one laptop per child (OLPC), or – increasingly — a net computer, smart phone, or the re-emergence of the tablet, classrooms should prepare for the universal availability of personal learning devices.
- Ubiquitous learning. With the emergence of increasingly robust connectivity infrastructure and cheaper computers, school systems around the world are developing the ability to provide learning opportunities to students “anytime, anywhere”. This trend requires a rethinking of the traditional 40 minute lesson. In addition to hardware and Internet access, it requires the availability of virtual mentors or teachers, and/or opportunities for peer to peer and self-paced, deeper learning.
- Gaming. A recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Projectper the Horizon Report found that massively multiplayer and other online game experience is extremely common among young people and that games offer an opportunity for increased social interaction and civic engagement among youth. The phenomenal success of games with a focus on active participation, built in incentives and interaction suggests that current educational methods are not falling short and that educational games could more effectively attract the interest and attention of learners.
- Personalized learning. Education systems are increasingly investigating the use of technology to better understand a student’s knowledge base from prior learning and to tailor teaching to both address learning gaps as well as learning styles. This focus transforms a classroom from one that teaches to the middle to one that adjusts content and pedagogy based on individual student needs – both strong and weak.
- Redefinition of learning spaces. The ordered classroom of 30 desks in rows of 5 may quickly become a relic of the industrial age as schools around the world are re-thinking the most appropriate learning environments to foster collaborative, cross-disciplinary, students centered learning. Concepts such as greater use of light, colors, circular tables, individual spaces for students and teachers, and smaller open learning spaces for project-based learning are increasingly emphasized.
- Teacher-generated open content. OECD school systems are increasingly empowering teachers and network of teachers to both identify and create the learning resources that they find most effective in the classroom. Many online texts allow teachers to edit, add to, or otherwise customize material for their own purposes, so that their students receive a tailored copy that exactly suits the style and pace of the course. These resources in many cases complement the official textbook and may, in the years to come, supplant the textbook as the primary learning source for students. Such activities often challenge traditional notions of intellectual property and copyright.
- Smart portfolio assessment. The collection, management, sorting, and retrieving of data related to learning will help teachers to better understand learning gaps and customize content and pedagogical approaches. Also, assessment is increasingly moving toward frequent formative assessments which lend itself to real-time data and less on high-pressure exams as the mark of excellence. Tools are increasingly available to students to gather their work together in a kind of online portfolio; whenever they add a tweet, blog post, or photo to any online service, it will appear in their personal portfolio which can be both peer and teacher assessed.
- Teacher managers/mentors. The role of the teacher in the classroom is being transformed from that of the font of knowledge to an instructional manager helping to guide students through individualized learning pathways, identifying relevant learning resources, creating collaborative learning opportunities, and providing insight and support both during formal class time and outside of the designated 40 minute instruction period. This shift is easier said than done and ultimately the success or failure of technology projects in the classroom hinge on the human factor and the willingness of a teacher to step into unchartered territory.
IT NEWS HIGHLIGHT
On the 11th of August, the Deputy Governor Commissioned Samsung Smart School Project at Uyo High School Oron Road, Uyo. Fully Air Conditioned Classroom with 50 units of Samsung Desktops, 2 Electronic Smart Boards, Teachers Laptop, Several Galaxy Tabs units, 6.5kva Solar Power ready and delivered to Akwa Ibom Youths!
Android app presented at the event.